Long and frequent calls, video conferencing, binge-watching and overloaded VPN connections to company servers are putting Germany's fixed networks under unprecedented stress in the corona crisis. Are they doomed to disruption or collapse? This analysis reveals some surprising results.
When Germany talks about network quality, providers are often chastised and people’s thoughts turn enviously to nearby Switzerland or faraway South Korea. But such talks are usually focused on the mobile networks, whose expansion has been driven by continuous innovations over a number of decades.
The social distancing measures imposed to fight the rampant spread of coronavirus have now shifted attention to the fixed network, because all of a sudden, people are now using phone calls to communicate with friends and relatives instead of meeting in restaurants or pubs. Instead of spending their free time in gyms, in playgrounds, on sports fields or at concerts, people are now confined within their four walls, which has made binge-watching the de facto number one leisure activity.
Instead of seeing colleagues and customers in meeting rooms or on business trips, video calls and chats via Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are now the order of the working day. And instead of transferring data from one workplace to another over the company intranet, data is now being sent from one home office to the next via corporate headquarters over bandwidth-hogging VPN tunnels. The resulting increase in traffic is a worst-case scenario for which no network operator could have been prepared.
Measurements in 52 German cities
To see how well networks are standing up to the challenge, connect asked its long-standing fixed network test partner zafaco GmbH for analysis. It examined 110 network parameters crucial to network quality between 1st and 30th March to assess the impact on services used since social distancing measures were introduced on 13th March.
For the analysis, zafaco utilises measuring points distributed over 52 cities that take into account the different classes of service of all leading fixed network and broadband providers. With a one-hour maintenance window per day, the quality parameters are recorded 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to provide an extremely detailed picture of each network provider's performance.
Even if increased use of the digital infrastructure may lead to situations where individual services, regions or network gateways are overloaded, Germany's fixed network operators are doing an excellent job during the crisis. Practically all relevant services are stable and offer the expected levels of quality.
Even video quality, which was cut with the approval of the Federal Network Agency to limit its impact on the Internet, is so close to its former level that most users hardly notice any difference. Thus, despite the growth in data traffic, German networks appear to be well equipped to deal with the situation. This is a great news in the current tense situation.
How is the corona crisis affecting telephony, data traffic and video streaming in Germany? Further information and charts can be found here.